Saturday, 12/24/11

Newsday 7:19 
NYT 7:17 
LAT 5:23 
CS 5:50 (Sam) 
WSJ (Saturday) untimed 

Happy Christmas Eve to those who celebrate it, and Happy Hanukkah to its crowd too. And Happy Festivus (it was December 23)—when I complain about crossword fill, what is that but an Airing of Grievances? Team Fiend’s Jeffrey will be in charge for Saturday night and Sunday morning while my family and I are doing Christmassy stuff. Thanks, Jeffrey!

Ned White’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution 12 24 11 #1224

My favorite answer is also the first one I plunked into the grid: [What may be visualized via a bumper sticker?], of course, is WHIRLED PEAS. I like this variant on the pun bumper sticker: “Stop the violins. Visualize whirled peas.HARPO MARX takes second place to 15a. SNEAK OUT, CAB RIDE, a retro POWERMAC, and “I’M ON A DIET” are nice too.

Now, there are other entries that had me scratching my head. OIL OF GARLIC? That’s a thing? I had no idea. The 1988 Prince song “When 2 R IN Love”? Also new to me, as is YA fiction author Lynne RAE Perkins. Sure didn’t recall that [Tennis’s Zvonareva and others] are VERAS (and that’s not a great plural name, because how many famous Veras can you name?). [Spaghetti end?] for AN I, a letter “I”? No. The spaghetti end is just “I.” 51a: OOPSIE DAISY as a [Cry over spilled milk?]? I suppose people say that but I have “upsy-daisy” on the mind. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to a neurologist as a BRAIN DOCTOR. In Chicago, most Spanish speakers are of Mexican descent, and for them, a TORTA is a sandwich. [Cake, in Cali] is accurate as TORTA means “cake” in South America, but I’ve only ever seen the word used for a sandwich. Not sure what SKIBOBS are—tried SLEIGHS and SKIDOOS here first. 38d: [Tempted] clues LURED ON, but I’m having trouble envisioning someone being lured on. Led on, lured into? Have zero recollection of the SAYRE [__ fire (destructive 2008 blaze in Los Angeles)], but my grandma used to live on Sayre Avenue so I can’t hate the answer.

That seems like a lot of “Huh?” and “Eh” and “Meh” stuff for a Saturday puzzle, particularly one with a fairly generous 70 words. Three stars from me, or maybe 2.75.

Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 24 11

Whoa. There’s a lot of out-there stuff in this puzzle:

  • 18a. [Keyboardist who founded Return to Forever] is jazz’s Chick COREA. To clue him without the first name or the word jazz? Whoa. Never heard of Return to Forever.
  • 19a. [Rembrandt van __] RYN? I prefer the van Rijn spelling, personally. What good are Dutch names without doubled vowels or a wait-how-is-that-pronounced J?
  • 32a. [Rug with a long pile] is the Swedish crosswordese rug called a RYA. Someday I will move to Amsterdam and open a Scandinavian rug boutique called Rembrandt van Rya.
  • 48a. [Town across the Connecticut River from Springfield, Mass.]? Really? I used crossings to get all 6 letters and still wound up with something that looks not remotely plausible. AGAWAM? Population 28,500. Its ZIP code is 01001! No town has a lower number.
  • 65a. [“Sharky’s Machine” author]? I know this was made into a movie somewhere around 1980. Had no idea the author was DIEHL. William Diehl also wrote Primal Fear, which became a Richard Gere/Edward Norton movie. “I-I-I lost time.” The movies, I fear, are more famous than the books’ author.
  • 2d. [“Tumbleweeds” cartoonist] is T.K. RYAN. I forgot Tumbleweeds existed and am surprised to learn the strip ended only four years ago.
  • 7d. [2011 Canadian Open champ Sean] O’HAIR? Who?? I’m not even going to Google him. I’ll just say that the Canadian Open is most likely a curling event.
  • 9d. [“Chariots of Fire” executive producer] is circa-1981 trivia. Now, if you’re going to put DODI FAYED in the puzzle, for Pete’s sake, clue him as Princess Diana’s beau. That is what we remember him for. (Also? People, wear your seat belts. They save lives.)
  • 10d. [E-7 Army personnel] are SFCS. An SFC is a Sergeant First Class.
  • 37d. [Poe poem written at the time of the California Gold Rush] clues ELDORADO. I thought I knew my Poe but that doesn’t ring a bell for me at all. Clue this as a Cadillac model and I’m all set.
  • 61d. [New Deal home loan gp.] clues NHA. National Housing Act of 1934. Do people going on Jeopardy! study their New Deal program abbreviations, or is this info just not going to come up?

I like DODI FAYED and ELDORADO as crossword fill, but those clues both mystified me. I like the ORANGE/ORANGS combo (“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”). MARJORAM looks good in the grid. Most of the rest of this puzzle was just sort of there for me. 2.5 stars for all the unfamiliar proper names.
Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “She Moves in Mysterious Ways” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, December 24

If you ask U2’s Bono about this theme, he might say, “It’s alright, it’s alright.” But I have a much higher opinion of this fun anagram gimmick from Randall J. Hartman. The theme entries are familiar titles containing a woman’s name, but the letters in the woman’s name have been rearranged (thus, “she moves in mysterious ways”) to form wacky new expressions. Check it out:

  • 20-Across: The [Television show featuring a tiny Fata Morgana?] is MY LITTLE MIRAGE, a play on My Little Margie, a sitcom from the 1950s. That’s okay, I’ve never seen it, either. Our friends at Wikipedia offer this synopsis of the show: “Set in New York City, the series stars Gale Storm as 21-year-old Margie Albright and former silent film star Charles Farrell as her widowed father, 50-year-old Vern Albright. They shared an apartment at the Carlton Arms Hotel. Vern Albright was the vice president of the investment firm of Honeywell and Todd. Mrs. Odetts (played by Gertrude W. Hoffmann on TV; Verna Felton on radio) was the Albrights’ next-door neighbor and Margie’s sidekick in madcap capers reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy. When Margie realized she had blundered or got into trouble, she made an odd trilling sound.” Apparently you can catch the occasion rerun on ION Television (one of those channels you get with basic cable that’s either so far down the dial or so far up the dial that you never really notice it).
  • 37-Across: The [Movie about strength that withered away?] is MIGHTY ATROPHIED, a twist on Mighty Aphrodite, the Woody Allen film that launched my crush on Mira Sorvino. I liked this theme entry, in no small part because it helped me uncover the theme.
  • 48-Across: The [Song Muppet Bert sings at bedtime?] is GOOD NIGHT ERNIE, a rearrangement of Good Night Irene.

I like how the theme entries play on a TV show, a movie, and a song. There were a number of fun clues worth mentioning, including [Sudan sedan?] for CAMEL, [Catcher for the mariners?] for NET (oh, how I wish it was DAN WILSON), [Company founded as Blue Ribbon Sports] for NIKE, and my personal favorite, [Playboy’s plea] for RENEW. Maybe the trickiest part was the crossing of the [Former African capital], LAGOS, with the current [African capital], RABAT.

I usually don’t notice duplications in the clues, but [Finger or toe] as the clue for DIGIT stood out like a sore…well, you know…given that just a few squares over sits BIG TOE, the [Stub hub?]. Oops. But for that minor foot fault, this was a well-crafted and enjoyable puzzle.

Doug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday "Saturday Stumper" crossword solution, 12 24 11 Peterson

I’ve long stumbled around in the Newsday applet on Stan Newman’s site. I change directions and think I’m in one square when I’m actually one over, and then the word STEAL reads “LSTEA” instead. (LSTEA is hardly any worse than STEAL when the real answer for [Rustle] is SWISH, mind you.) I got that far into the grid when I remembered hey! I can do Newsday in PuzzleSocial’s Crosswords app. The navigation works how I’m used to things working. (For those of you who find the navigation doesn’t work how you expect, let me know what the issue is and I’ll pass it along to PuzzleSocial founder Jeb Balise. He’s ridiculously open to making improvements.)

Anyway! The puzzle. Tougher than the NYT by two seconds. My 10 favorite clues and answers follow:

  1. ANACONDAS at 1a. I’m not sure why they’re [Mythical South American “giants”]—are they not really as giant and deadly as they were in those cheesy ’90s monster movies? Jon Voight and J.Lo haven’t worked together since then, have they?
  2. [RL Stine alma mater]? I follow @RL_Stine on Twitter (he picks up on the most bizarre, creepy news stories) but had no idea where he went to school. Luckily, OHIO STATE is easy to figure out with a handful of crossings. Oddball trivia is kinda fun, especially when you can find the answer with crossings and have no trouble spelling it.
  3. I didn’t know NASA programs had mottoes. 55a: [“Ex __, scientia” (Apollo 13 motto)] clues LUNA. “From the moon, science”? Makes sense.
  4. [Thing in a holster] at 60a is not a weapon. It’s a CELLPHONE. Duh! I had this blank for a long time.
  5. [Word on all US paper money] is TREASURER. Duh! I had this blank for a long time.
  6. A Gandhi quote to put things in perspective is always good. 1d: [“We are less than __ in this universe”: Gandhi] clues ATOMS.
  7. 3d has a great clue. [Defensive line?] isn’t about football, it’s the ALIBI that’s part of your legal defense.
  8. 13d: [Plants with molds] probably made you think of spores, right? FOUNDRIES are factories where molten metal is cast into various molded shapes.
  9. World trivia. 31d: [First native-born leader of his country] is Israel’s NETANYAHU. Seeing his name always makes me think of the 1996 Dave Letterman Top 10 list with mispronunciations of “Bibi Netanyahu.” Yahu Netanbibi and Betty Needs a Yoo-Hoo are my favorites.
  10. 39d: [Deliberate] is a verb here, not an adjective. Deliberate, muse, ponder, REFLECT. Stumpers are loaded with part-of-speech misleads.

Four stars from me. Less of the hilarious fill Doug includes in his themelesses for other venues, but a smooth challenge.

Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Gift Boxes”

WSJ Saturday Puzzle, 12 24 11 "Gift Boxes" solution

Once again, a brilliant conceit from Patrick Berry. A grid packed full of “gift boxes,” but there’s something missing. The letters that don’t fit into the boxes spell out BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED. Perfect! (If you’re still wrapping Xmas presents and you’re giving toys and gadgets that need batteries, remember that it’s hugely thoughtful to tape the appropriate batteries to the package. Makes it so much easier for the recipients or their parents.)

Favorite clue: [Group with only four members since 2006 (5,7)]. I was thinking geopolitically and musically and that got me nowhere. Eventually I had a patch in the grid that was nudging me towards this answer: the OUTER PLANETS, of which Pluto is no longer a member.

4.25 stars. A delightful endgame message, but the rest of the puzzle felt smoothly ordinary (in the Berry way).

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29 Responses to Saturday, 12/24/11

  1. Tuning Spork says:

    Vera Wang, Vera Lynn, Vera Miles, Vera the ditzy Mel’s Diner waitress. That’s all I got.

  2. pannonica says:

    “Vera, Chuck and Dave.”

    Really irked by STOP ON TIME as well as the mentioned LURED ON.

  3. ktd says:

    NYT: What about the “Steal away”/LAID AWAY” duplication? I don’t see what’s wrong with repeating short prepositions like “on” or “to” because they are so common, but I found myself double-taking at this one.

  4. Bananarchy says:

    Didn’t enjoy the NYT very much – after yesterday’s PB everything in this grid seems so forced. Ironically, I got all the long answers that I thought were a stretch right away, and couldn’t get two of the best (HARPOMARX and WHIRLEDPEAS) until the very end with most of the crossings. This is probably a sign I should pay more attention while driving.

  5. Tuning Spork says:


    I just did a NYT from the archives a few hours ago. It’s the February 9th, 2002 Saturday puzzle.

    2-Down’s clue is [Ready to take a cut], and the answer is UP NEXT. Crossing that answer at the P, 15-Across is [Isn’t shy] cluing SPEAKS UP. Directly beneath SPEAKS UP, at 17-Across, is INCREASE, and the clue is [Up].

    Oh, and at 37-Across is [Get all of] cluing BUY UP.

  6. Howard B says:

    Of two minds on that NY Times puzzle. Love the playfulness and unexpected finds in the answers. Not so much some of those somewhat invented phrases or spellings. That whole bottom-right did not feel natural or in-the-language here, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.

    Have a great rest of the middle of the night, and then happy holidays to all!

  7. Gareth says:

    Can’t say I enjoyed this one much: I haven’t seen WHIRLEDPEAS, but I’ll assume it’s just something American. You listed most of grievances already, so I’ll just add that IMONADIET was a great answer!

    The LAT felt pretty solid (if we ignore AGAWAM – is there some reason Americans should know this?) if not all that thrilling. I liked learning more about DODIFAYED who, yes, is mostly famous for being Diana’s armcandy. I ended with gRANC and tOREA, but immediately saw COREA and FRANC. I’ve never seen SFC in x-words only PFC, but there ya go, I was wondering why it specified E-7. I hope no-one googles the clue for ORANGS, remember that article about the old man who googled a clue for ONAGER… PS: I have Leo Sayer in my head. Grr.

  8. Matt says:

    I’m more positive about the NYT– Note that OOPSIEDAISY might be a New-York-ism– it seemed fine to me and I’ve never heard UPSYDAISY.

  9. Evad says:

    Wow, AGAWAM has become the new NATICK…it’s even obscure for those of us in the Boston area. There is an AGAWAM Diner on Route 1 in Rowley, but even with that, I couldn’t tell you the town itself was in the Springfield area.

  10. Tuning Spork says:

    AGAWAM is well-known to New Englanders as it is the home of Riverside Amusement Park (now called Six Flags New England, though us old-timers still call it Riverside), a must-visit-at-least-once-a-year destination for anyone with kids.

  11. Jan (danjan) says:

    Tuning Spork beat me to it – I still call it Riverside, too.

    In the NYT, I misread the clue for PEYOTES, and was trying to fit a currency name in there. OOPSIEDAISY seemed like a variant for me. If I were to say that, I think I’d say something more like UPSA or OOPSA, or even UPSY. Ok, who says this, anyway?

  12. Karen says:

    I’ll stick up for AGAWAM too. They have a mock-Cyclone coaster there that I like to ride.

    The NYT felt like a Friday to me. The OOPSIE DAISY bothered me…they should both have the same ending.

    The spread eagle in both puzzles was amusing, and the ranch endings.

  13. Doug says:

    Did any other Angelenos utter a giant “Huh?” at SAYRE Fire? I couldn’t believe there was a big fire in ’08 that I hadn’t heard of. Every news report I saw called it the Sylmar fire. (Fellow constructors, please don’t add SAYRE to your word lists.)

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Is GURNEE fair game for crosswords? Population 31,000, this Illinois town is home to Six Flags Great America. Everyone in southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and northwest Indiana knows it. There’s also an outlet mall called Gurnee Mills, which gives the town name extra weight. If you Easterners think GURNEE would be lousy fill, then you know how the rest of the world feels about AGAWAM.

  15. Jeff Chen says:

    Much to admire about the NYT today – lots of good phrases. Didn’t care for the SE though – LURED IN seemed so right. SO RIGHT! I guess I was just lured on by the allure of finishing under 30 minutes.

    I mean, lured in. Dang!

  16. Jeff Chen says:

    P.S. “BRAIN DICTOR” is so a thing. So there.

  17. Jeff Chen says:

    P.P.S. Anyone who disagrees with me shall be challenged to feats of strength.

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    What is this, Russian Orthodox Festivus, where you’re still doing feats of strength on the 24th? It’s a shame, I tell you. People don’t know keep to the traditions anymore. This society is going to hell in a handbasket when Festivus gets messed up.

  19. Tuning Spork says:

    I see we’ve moved right along to the airing of grievances.


  20. Jeffrey says:

    Wait, I have to work Christmas Day? Grievance!

  21. Amy Reynaldo says:

    The Feats of Strength, crossword-blog style, consist of speed-solving. Whoever beat the head of the household (that’s me) has completed the Feats of Strength portion of the holiday for the Crossword Fiend extended family. You can always count on Joon to come through.

  22. joon says:

    doug, SAYRE is already in my word list—it’s the maiden name of zelda fitzgerald, who was famous in her own right before marrying scott. not great fill as these things go, but i think it’s legit.

    and no, i didn’t memorize new deal acronyms for jeopardy, but i do know poe’s “el dorado”. not one of his better poems, but one of his better-known ones. it was even my poem of the week one week, back when i had such a thing. (actually, it was apparently my very first poem of the week. ah, nostalgia!) of course, on jeopardy as everywhere else, literature was much more of a strength for me than US history.

  23. Doug says:

    Thanks for SAYRE note, joon. I’ll reconsider that entry. Maybe use it in a future Stumper with the Zelda clue.

  24. It took me 3 lousy hours to get the “feats of strength” joke. Good one, Jeff. Leaving the airing of grievances to others?

  25. John Haber says:

    I’m of two minds, too. I liked simply that I finished it in a reasonable amount of time, with some good challenges along the way and an excellent final pair of clues to fall, with HARPO and BAGS. (I’d “dammed” before that for DAMPED, which makes sense, but easy enough to fix.) I didn’t know TORTA, but I’m happy to take it.

    I didn’t recognize SAYRE or RAE, didn’t remember the POWER MAC, and I spell it OOPSY-DAISY myself (so no, it’s not a New York-ism). I am not used to NOSE BLEED in that sense, and I just scratched my head at Amy’s favorite, WHIRLED PEAS, so I’ll just trust it’s what one sees out there in real America. And AN I did seem rather odd. I first wondered if they wanted INI, as in the end of lots of pastas, but that would lead to spaghettiini! Then I just drew a blank stare at seeing what was needed. And I, too, “stop IN time.” If you stop on time, I assume you make it to the corner before it’s too late.

  26. Brad W says:

    Distant second to Zelda in the SAYRE sweepstakes might be SAYRE, Pa….although it is smaller in population than I expected when I investigated. It’s a town on the New York border.

  27. Amy Reynaldo says:

    SAYRE, Pennsylvania, is even worse than AGAWAM!

    Now, if anyone wants to put ’70s falsetto disco man Leo SAYER in the grid, that would absolutely make me feel like dancing and in fact, I might dance the night away. Whooooo!

  28. Gareth says:

    Thanks, Amy. I spent an hour with “When I need you” in my head, and then you go and do that..

  29. Joan macon says:

    Gareth, I believe E7 is the designation for an enlisted non commissioned officer; 7 probably means Sgt. 1st Class. My late husband was a colonel and his designation was O6.

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